Traveling soon? Here’s how to keep bed bugs at bay 

Catherine Hill, El Inde Arizona 

Americans traveling to Paris this past October might have gotten a surprise souvenir in their suitcase: bedbugs. 

“They’re not like ants,” said Nicholas Ramirez, a Pima County environmental health supervisor. “They’re traveling bugs.” 

Although major cities in America have not reported a widespread bedbug outbreak to the level of Paris, Ramirez and others have some advice for students traveling over winter break. 

Rule No. 1: Don’t place baggage on floors or hotel beds. 

If you’re staying in a hotel or AirBnB, check for little specks of blood, fecal matter, or shedding in couches and beds. Bed bugs also commonly enter through used furniture, so inspecting furniture is key in prevention. 

Don’t assume that because your hotel or rental is super clean that it’s free of bed bugs. Bed bugs have been around forever, Ramirez said, and they “have nothing to do with being dirty.”

If you think you have been exposed to bed bugs, look for bite marks that are “typically a zig-zag pattern, in a row, or in threes,” Ramirez said. 

When she was younger, Courtney Joynt experienced a bed bug infestation for years after staying in a hotel in El Paso. Throughout her entire middle school years ,bed bugs plagued her Tucson home. 

“I got sent home (from school) because of the bites on my arms,” said Joynt, a senior studying psychology and creative writing.

Joynt said she wore hoodies to hide the scars as her family attempted to get rid of the bed bugs with diatomaceous earth powder, heat treatments, duct tape and rubbing alcohol. She said her family threw away their mattresses and Joynt slept on an air mattress for a few years. 

This experience has “left me traumatized,” she said. 

Joynt said she is wary of contracting bed bugs again and avoids used furniture. 

If you happen to bring bed bugs home from your travels, treatments include using over-the-counter solutions and heat. Throwing clothes into the dryer on high-heat fries bed bugs. Ramirez also recommends calling pest control.  

Shujuan Li, an entomologist with UA Public Health Integrated Pest Management, said bed bugs have developed resistance to commonly used pesticides. An Integrated Pest Management approach that includes using heat “is the most likely strategy to successfully eliminate pests,” Li said.

Heat is a common method to kill all life stages of bed bugs, Li said. Throwing items in the dryer will get rid of the bugs. For items sensitive to heat, sealing them off in the freezer for a week also works to kill the bugs. Vacuuming is also key in removing eggs and casings, Li said. 

“We have to use an integrated approach to treat bed bugs, in which careful use of pesticides combines with other common-sense measures,” Li said. 

Removing bedroom clutter where bed bugs are able to hide, clearing out dust and debris, and washing bed linens with hot water and drying in high heat are all crucial steps in holistically eliminating the bugs. 

El Inde Arizona is a news service of the University of Arizona School of Journalism

Bed bugs life cycle, image credit: University of Arizona – Cooperative Extension Report. 

Within minutes after feeding bed bugs swell in size, image credit: University of Arizona – Cooperative Extension Report.

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